America's Biggest Feud Hatfields and McCoys Part 5

About the history of America's biggest feud between the Hatfield and the McCoys in the southern United States


But excitement had permeated the gathering. Tolbert still seethed inwardly. As the day advanced, so did the tension.

In the late afternoon Ellison Hatfield, another brother of Devil Anse, approached the polls. He had just awakened from a nap brought on by too much whiskey and food, but he was in a jovial mood. Suddenly he was faced by Tolbert, who belligerently yelled at him, "I'm hell on earth!"

"You're a damn hog," Ellison replied.

Tolbert slashed him across the stomach with a knife. Hatfield, a powerful man, fell on him and tried to grab the knife. Tolbert's brothers, Phamer and Randolph, rushed to his assistance while the crowd stood paralyzed. Ellison was stabbed over and over, but he managed to grab a rock. As he was about to strike with it, Phamer shot him in the back.

The Hatfields moved in rapidly, cornered the three McCoy brothers, the youngest of them not yet 16, and warned that if Ellison died, they, too, would die. Two days later, a burst of 20 or more shots along the Tug told the story. Ellison was dead, and the Hatfields had tied the McCoy brothers to papaw bushes and shot them down.

Now, as never in the past, Tug Fork became a dividing line between Kentucky and West Virginia. News of the murders spread by word of mouth as far as Louisville and Frankfort, but there it stopped. Pike County was so remote that people who heard of the slaughter listened to the meager details impassively. The Pike County Circuit Court at its next session returned 20 indictments in the case, but no arrests were made. A reward of $100 posted by the governor of Kentucky for the capture of the Hatfields went unclaimed.

In the months ahead, old Randolph McCoy, irked largely by the sight of the Hatfields going about their business as if nothing had happened, brooded more than ever. Often he strode to Pikeville to voice his lament to a nephew by marriage, Perry A. Cline, a cadaverous individual who had left a boyhood home on the Tug to make good as an attorney and politician.

On Aug. 30, 1887, Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, who had surrendered Fort Donelson to Gen. U. S. Grant in the Civil War, was inaugurated governor of Kentucky. Cline rejoiced, for he had campaigned for Buckner and expected reward. He got it. On Sept. 10, Buckner made requisition upon the governor of West Virginia for the delivery of the Hatfield clansmen named in the indictments and also offered a reward of $500 for the apprehension of Devil Anse.

But the course of justice in this instance did not run easily, and matters between the neighboring governors failed to work out smoothly. Complications were added when evidence was produced in West Virginia indicating that Cline, in his efforts to aid Randolph McCoy, also was taking steps to line his pockets with money extorted from the very men he allegedly was trying to punish.

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